It is noteworthy that despite their far-right politics, many of our politicians have unconventional love-sex lives, much like men and women in power the world over
Tara Kaushal | January 25, 2014
The masala Twitter war between Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor and the Pakistani journalist she accused of having an affair with her husband erupted around the same time French president Francois Hollande’s affair with actress Julie Gayet was revealed by Closer magazine. It got me thinking about certain civilisations’ preoccupations with the sexuality and sex lives of their politicians—and India’s lack of it.
Think about it: in the late 90s, the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair was making global news, enticing passionate headlines and arguments, and almost had him impeached. The Indian prime minister around the time was an old single man with an ‘adopted’ daughter whose parentage was a matter of speculation—but the media didn’t particularly care, neither did the people.
Let alone sex life, implying activity, we don’t even like to acknowledge that our politicians, like us, are sexual beings. Perhaps it is because, at the media explosion in the dotcom age, Rajiv Gandhi was long gone and most of our political leaders since have been octogenarian men, and that aspect of their lives is best left unimagined—no dishy Kennedys or Obama for us. Sure, there is the odd paternity suit and sting operation CD, but surprisingly, even now, references to Rahul Gandhi’s (alleged) Colombian girlfriend are few and far between. What proportion of this silence from the media is fear of or complicity with our politicians?
Or is it because we tend to deify the people we look up to, and would rather revere unidimensional gods than multidimensional men? A friend tells me that evidence of Jinnah’s non-Muslim wife, and his smoking and drinking have been removed in the official telling of Pakistan’s history; like the Father of Our Nation, he was retrospectively idealised. (This also explains why, in the South, the transition from movie star to politician appears effortless, a seemingly illogical transference of heroic attributes and popularity.) Note the way our female politicians drape their sarees, with not a sliver of sexy stomach on show—this when quite a few are former actresses. What the so deified politicians and their audiences don’t acknowledge is that these constructs breed hypocrisy, because they are people—people with flaws, sex lives et al.
Leaders of liberal democracies sans dynastic politics—America, Australia, Britain, France—are not valued in isolation, but alongside their partners and families, and for conduct in their personal lives. Despite our family-centric society, whereas Michelle, together with her husband and as an individual, is in the public eye, Mrs Manmohan Singh shuffles quietly behind, nary a Femina article about her. It’s also noteworthy that, despite their far-right politics, many of our politicians have unconventional (if not downright sleazy though perhaps not Gaddafi-extreme) love-sex lives, much like men and women in power the world over, and details long suppressed about Gandhi’s strange sexual practices are now being outed in books.
Whatever its cause, into this a-gendered pseudo-genteel environment entered Sunanda Pushkar, as the third wife of one of our most suave new-breed politicians, who was also her third husband. With her looks and flashy dressing; public persona, PDA and personality; and businesses and dodgy mysterious past, she straddled many worlds. In Delhi circles, I am told, but I speak as a media consumer—they loved her, hated her, you couldn’t ignore her. Together, Sunanda and Shashi made an ‘It’ couple, a veritable first in this generation’s political class.
And then came reports of her failing marriage, and the Twitter war with Mehr Tarar: Juvenile? Dirty linen in public? Unnecessary? Her death soon after, fodder for a generation of conspiracy theorists. Natural-Unnatural? Murder? Suicide? Mistake! What about those bruises? Is this the birth of our very own Marilyn Monroe death conspiracy?
Despite Sunanda’s turbulent stardom and sad end, I think there was more about her and Shashi to admire than we give them credit for. Culturally, we need strong spunky female role models, women who will forge their own in environments where they have been silent before. “She behaved more like a flashy Bollywood trophy wife than an ambitious politician’s well-behaved, soberly-dressed spouse,” writes Shobha De. In many ways, by refusing to be, or let his wife be, typecast by her past, Sunanda was an interesting multidimensional female protagonist, and Shashi an inspiring, liberal man.
Notwithstanding the end, the couple showed an equal partnership, freely displayed their love and stood by each other in tough times. They were also handling a low point in their marriage with relative dignity (until the Twitter war)—I think this is important too, given that we suffer from unrealistic ideas of marriage, with our Cinderella complexes and other unreal influences on mass culture, ranging from mythology, Bollywood and daytime TV. Marriages, even the happiest ones, have tough times and, sink or swim, it’s important to know how to deal with them.
When liberal lifestyles are on display by famous people, it is inspiring and culturally game-changing; this is how I feel about the Suzanne-Hrithik divorce as well. And when these famous people are policy-makers, who can be held accountable on a practice-what-you-preach front, this bodes well for cultural governance in the long term.
The public spat and Sunanda’s subsequent death, and reactions to both, could, hopefully, serve as a cautionary tale, if we choose to see it that way. Where does one draw the public-private divide? What about balancing impulsiveness and consequences? And what, if anything, is worth taking ones own life for? Suicide—if indeed hers was one—leaves nothing but pain, heartache and questions, as the media coverage has shown, and everyone should live to face another day no matter how bleak it may seem. For themselves, and the people left behind.
My condolences to Shashi, and Sunanda’s son, Shiv. And to Mehr, who won’t live this one down.
With commissioning of 800 MW unit at Kudgi in Karnataka, 250 MW unit at Bongaigaon in Assam and 20 MW at Bhadla solar in Rajasthan, the total installed capacity of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) group has reached to 49,943 MW. The 12th plan cap
Aadhaar is arguably one of the most convoluted public policy interventions in India’s history. It has been more than eight years, yet there is little clarity on the exact purpose of the biometric-based unique identification project. Let me take you through an event which I witne
The airports authority of India (AAI), a Miniratna PSU, has undertaken operation, development and maintenance of Diu airport from Diu administration. A memorandum of understanding demonstrating the responsibilities was inked on March 20 between the union terri
Central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) have done quite well despite facing headwinds, according to the Public Enterprises Survey (2015-16) that was tabled in parliament on March 21. The net worth of all the CPSEs have gone up and the overall net profit has zoomed. Their contribution to the cen
After much discussion and pondering over for more than two years, the cabinet has approved a new National Health Policy, scrapping the old one which was formulated in 2002. The government aims to increase the public health expenditure to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025. The policy formulated in 2002 aimed
“We have requested more security from the government of India and the Uttar Pradesh government,” said Abdou Ibrahim, senior adviser, Association of African Students (AASI) following an attack on four students from Africa in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. &n